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Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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CEDAR FALLS — The most experienced guy on the team physically looks like it.
Jeremy Morgan has a full beard going again as he and his Northern Iowa teammates prepare for the 2016-17 season. There were no visible signs of graying in his facial hair during Tuesday’s media day festivities, though perhaps that will come.
The senior guard from Iowa City West has 102 college basketball games under his belt, 81 starts. He is the unquestioned leader of a team whose 16 members include 11 who have never played a single game for UNI.
His responsibilities are enormous. Score more, play the same excellent defense he has throughout his career and guide a bunch of newbies through a schedule that includes a game at national runner-up North Carolina and only four home games prior to the start of Missouri Valley Conference play.
No pressure, Jeremy. No pressure.
“Just keep them focused,” Morgan said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of young guys. They’re doing a lot of thinking right now. It’s just keeping the communication up, then just setting that example of working hard on every play and trying to soak in as much as you can.”
UNI had an out-of-nowhere turnaround in the middle of last season, one that culminated in a MVC tournament championship and first-round NCAA tournament victory. It was sparked in large part by the outstanding play and leadership of guards Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon and Paul Jesperson.
Those three, all double-digit scorers, have graduated, leaving a huge, huge void and a ton of inexperience. This is Morgan’s team.
Northern Iowa has an exhibition game Oct. 28 at home against Bemidji State and begins the regular season Nov. 12 against Coe at the McLeod Center.
“He has had just a tremendous career, to this point. I’m very proud of what Jeremy has done on the floor,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “But I am more proud in terms of what Jeremy has done growing and changing and developing into the kind of leader he is right now for our program. What he has been able to do.
“What I’m excited about now is he has the opportunity to move into a different role. Move into a role like Seth Tuttle and some of his teammates held two years ago. The role that Wes and Bo and Paul were in a year ago. Jeremy is ready. He is ready to take that on. He has prepared himself well. I think we have seen at different times how good a basketball player he is. Now we’re going to get an opportunity to see more of it. He knows he is going to be counted on to do more, he is excited about it. From a coaching standpoint, we are excited for him.”
Morgan averaged 11.3 points per game last season, and UNI’s offense will revolve around him and junior forward Klint Carlson, whose emergence was another key factor in the Panthers’ late-season surge a year ago. Jacobson expects junior forward Bennett Koch and junior guard Wyatt Lohaus to increase their respective offensive outputs as well.
Junior center Ted Friedman has been a bit player thus far in his career and is the fifth guy with prior playing experience.
“I like the bigger role. I’ve worked hard for that,” said Lohaus. “I think I’ve done my time to earn it and accept it. Really, I think if I just let it come to me, it’ll happen. We’ve got the three seniors gone, and naturally their scoring is going to have be filled by guys. For me, it’s definitely about being more aggressive and more confident out there.”
“It’s always easier said than done,” Morgan said of providing more points this season. “It’s just seeing what comes to me in the offense. Obviously Coach will run plays for different guys when he sees mismatches and stuff like that. Also just finding opportunities in the middle of the offense when plays aren’t called. Just trying to have that aggressive mindset. I know Coach and everyone believes in me.”
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